Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) has introduced legislation in Springfield that would “place a moratorium on the use of red light cameras in Chicago until safeguards are in place to make their use fairer,” according to a press release issued by Ford’s office last month. The legislator has also started an online petition campaign calling for reform of the system.
“Red light cameras are used all around the world, and I am not against red light cameras in general, because they may make some streets safer for drivers and pedestrians,” Ford said.
“However, with the recent investigations by the Chicago Tribune raising questions whether the red light cameras may actually increase dangers in our streets, we need to make the system fairer and safer for all,” he said.
“Though the legislation does not call for a specific process to generate the report to be made to the General Assembly, I might suggest the creation of a task force to study best practices throughout the world and produce the best safeguards needed in Chicago. Even though Mayor Emanuel inherited this problem, this is a chance to reset the procedures for this system.”
However, not everyone is in favor of the moratorium. Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik told the Tribune in an article published last week that the cameras have been a net benefit for her city.
“We put cameras in only in the directions that had the most accidents and injuries, (and) they’re the most efficient and cost-effective way to manage that,” Kovarik said. “It’s minuscule (compared) to what you’d have to do to enforce that 24/7 with an officer.”
But the defense of politicians such as Kovarik isn’t consolation enough for the many residents who feel they’ve been victimized by a rash of abuses associated with the system, including “shortened yellow light times, unannounced changes to enforcement patterns and thousands of tickets issued under questionable circumstances,” the Tribune notes.
In December last year, the Tribune published the results of a “first-ever scientific study” of the city’s red light camera system, the nation’s largest. The study found that, contrary to Mayor Emanuel’s claims that the system reduces injury-related car accidents overall, the cameras “reduced right-angle crashes that caused injuries by just 15 percent” and that “there is no safety benefit from cameras installed at intersections where there have been few crashes with injuries,” among other conclusions.
Dominique Lord, an associate professor of civil engineering at TexasA&MUniversity, told the Tribune at the time that the “biggest takeaway [from the study] is that overall (the program) seems to have had little effect.”
Effect or no effect, the cameras have been a boon to the city’s ability to raise revenue—to the tune of about $500 million a year, the Tribune estimates. But that may come at the expense of transparency and ethics.
The Tribune reports that the camera system has “triggered a bribery scandal involving the previous owner, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., whose former CEO pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2014. Karen Finley admitted to funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to a retired Chicago official in exchange for help securing a $124 million contract.”
The cloud of suspicion surrounding the cameras is so pervasive that they’ve been banned altogether in seven states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in Missouri, a lawmaker introduced a statewide prohibition there in January.